I think during one of the many Writers Guild Strikes in America, the hit TV series Moonlighting, which was built around the ridiculous chemistry between its two leads, David Addison (played by a Bruce Willis so young that he had hair and had never got any shards of glass in his feet) and Madelyn Hayes (a never better Cybil Shepherd), instead ran with a whole season without those two in it, and trying to base the show around two minor cast members Herbert Viola and Agnes DiPesto.
It did not really fly. In the words of Douglas Adams ‘it hung in the air in the same way that bricks don’t’
It occasionally still makes me wince to think of that dreadful error of thinking.
That portion of Moonlighting, I would be prepared to give a declaration of incompatibility for.
All of which is a sprawling and ramshackle opening to Coulibaly v Coulibaly 2018 (which joyously has a “Rev no 1” in its full title, implying that there’s more to come, yes please!)
As far as one can tell, this case began as a private law dispute with the mother becoming very concerned that the father would abduct the children. It is not clear whether that has any basis (we know he DIDN’T, but not whether it was a rational fear that he MIGHT), or what it was that led to a Local Authority obtaining an interim care order and removing the child.
In any event, the bundles for the Court were delivered via wheelbarrow, if not actual dumper truck. (And yes, I did hover over google images of Big Trak for this moment… )
- There was listed today, with one day allowed, a number of wide-ranging applications for declarations pursuant to section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 that a number of sections of the Children Act 1989, and also the whole of the Child Abduction Act 1984, are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
- There were delivered to my room yesterday afternoon 7 lever arch files of material. I have not counted up the number of pages, but if one were to assume about 300 to 400 pages on average per bundle, then somewhere between about 2,100 and 2,500 pages are involved. Frankly, the bundles are not coherently arranged and presented, and I could not even readily identify the skeleton arguments for this hearing. In any event, the applicant’s series of written submissions themselves total about 70 pages.
A number of sections of the Children Act and the whole of the Child Abduction Act? Tell me more, tell me more
- The proposition that certain provisions of the Children Act 1989 are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights was first formally raised in the High Court by an appellant’s notice issued by Mrs Coulibaly on 2 May 2017. Since then she has, at various times, filed a considerable number of supplementary documents and submissions, the most recent of which was earlier this week. That procedural history, of course, creates a somewhat confusing moving target, in particular for the Lord Chancellor, who has been named as the respondent to these applications, to meet. However during the oral submissions of Mr Duke this morning it was clarified and confirmed and agreed that, by a combination of her appellant’s notice dated 2 May 2017 and her various subsequent written skeleton arguments or written submissions to the court, and the oral submissions made today, the totality and scope of all the applications for declarations of incompatibility is as follows.
- First, that section 2 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); second, that section 8 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3 of the ECHR; third, that section 38 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Articles 3, 5, 8, 9 and 10 of the ECHR; fourth, that section 50 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3 of the ECHR; fifth, that section 97 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3, read with Article 10, and also with Article 6 of the ECHR; sixth, that section 1 of the Child Abduction Act 1984, and also the whole of that Act, are incompatible with Article 3 of the ECHR.
Well, if Mrs Coulibaly succeeds in this application and the High Court declare sections 2, 9, 38, 50 and 97 of the Children Act 1989 incompatible with the HRA, there will be champagne corks flying in the household of Ian from Forced Adoption. But perhaps let’s not get the ice buckets out just yet.
Let’s be honest, if I was writing up a law report that junked an entire Act and large chunks of another, I’m burying the lede under all that Moonlighting stuff….
Mrs Coulibaly was not represented and her brother Mr Duke spoke on her behalf as a McKenzie Friend.
We shall observe with interest how he develops this wide-ranging submissions.
- I now come in turn to the sections of the Children Act 1989 which it is alleged are incompatible with one or more of those various rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and I will briefly describe and address the arguments. It will emerge that some points and themes, particularly in relation to international child abduction, recur several times in relation to a number of the statutory provisions under challenge. The fundamental and essential point is an assertion by, and on behalf of, Mrs Coulibaly that the statutory provisions simply are not strong enough and effective enough to prevent international child abduction which, she submits, may amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment” within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention. Without so holding, may I make quite clear for the purposes of this case and this judgment that I fully accept that international child abduction, whether it takes the form of unlawful removal from this country, or unlawful retention of the child abroad after a lawful removal, does, or may, expose the child concerned to a form of inhuman or degrading treatment. So, insofar as child abduction is the fear of Mrs Coulibaly, and insofar as her argument focuses on child abduction, I readily accept, but need not keep on repeating, that Article 3 is engaged.
- During the course of his submissions, Mr Duke said that “the Children Act is useless” and that “the entire Act needs to be rewritten.” Part of the context of his argument is that circumstances have changed in the almost 30 years since that Act was enacted. International child abduction has become more prevalent, and some of the safeguards such as strict border controls on exit have tended to be removed or relaxed. Another phrase used a number of times by Mr Duke during the course of his submissions is that “the Children Act is incomplete.” Those points and submissions indicate, to my mind, the flaw or fallacy in the whole, or much, of the argument on these applications. The issue for the court on an application under section 4 of the Human Rights Act is whether or not a provision of the primary, or any subordinate, legislation in point “is compatible” with a Convention right, or whether it “is incompatible” with a Convention right. That is a wholly different question from whether there are gaps in a particular statute, or the whole corpus of legislation generally, and whether or not an Act of Parliament is “incomplete”. I readily accept, for the purposes of this hearing and this judgment, that mechanisms for preventing the scourge of international child abduction may be able to be strengthened; but that is a world apart from saying that such provisions as there are in the legislation, whether specifically directed to child abduction or more generally, are themselves incompatible with Article 3.
I think the best argument (and I use best in fairly loose sense) is in relation to section 38 – which is interim care orders. Mr Duke argued that the power to remove a child under s38 is a restriction of the child’s liberty (in that the State in the form of the LA get to decide where the child lives), so unless any of the criteria in Article 5 are made out, that’s incompatible with Article 5
1Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law
(a)the lawful detention of a person after conviction by a competent court;
(b)the lawful arrest or detention of a person for non-compliance with the lawful order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation prescribed by law;
(c)the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so;
(d)the detention of a minor by lawful order for the purpose of educational supervision or his lawful detention for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority;
(e)the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants;
(f)the lawful arrest or detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition.
I would agree with Mr Dukes that none of those criteria apply to an interim care order – but the problem in his argument is that Article 5 only applies if the Court agree with him that an interim care order is depriving a child of their liberty [Spoiler alert – the Court do not]
- I turn, next, to the argument that section 38 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Articles 3, 5, 8, 9 and 10 of the Convention. Section 38 of the Children Act falls within Part IV of the Act, which deals with care and supervision. Section 31 of the Act makes provision for what I will call “full” care or supervision orders. Section 38 makes provision for the making of interim care or supervision orders. Again, it is not necessary to cite any of the express provisions of section 38, for much of the argument of Mr Duke is directed not to what section 38 does contain, but, rather, to what it fails to contain. There is, however, one overarching submission in relation to section 38, namely that it is incompatible with Article 5 of the Convention. I have already quoted the opening words of Article 5 above. The submission is that when an interim care order is made and implemented, it has the effect of depriving the child or young person concerned of his liberty. By Article 5 no one shall be deprived of their liberty save in the cases then listed at paragraphs (a) to (f), and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law. Clearly, when an interim care order is made there is a procedure prescribed by law, namely the provisions of section 38 itself, but the thrust of the submission of Mr Duke is that the circumstances in which an interim care order is made do not fall within any of paragraphs (a) to (f). I do accept that most of those subparagraphs are clearly not in point at all, but, as Mr Neil Sheldon submits on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, one has to have regard to the content of the subparagraphs in order to understand what is contemplated by the words “deprived of his liberty”, which is proscribed by Article 5, save in the permitted circumstances.
- I accept the submission of Mr Sheldon that when a child is taken into care pursuant to the making of an interim care order, he is not thereby “deprived of his liberty” in the manner which Article 5, read as a whole, contemplates. Further, I accept the submission of Mr Sheldon that if, in the particular circumstances of an individual case, there is a deprivation of liberty, then that deprivation of liberty can be the subject of case-specific challenge under the provisions of section 7 of the Human Rights Act. This indeed ties in with an important overarching point. The express effect of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 is that “It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.” That section is binding on all public authorities, including, indeed courts. The provisions of the Children Act 1989, wherever they confer a discretionary power, always have to be read and applied with regard to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and any relevant provision of the Convention. If Mr Duke is correct in his argument that the making of an interim care order necessarily infringes a right guaranteed by Article 5, then the argument would apply no less to the making of a “full” care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. Frankly, carried to its logical conclusion, the argument and submission of Mr Duke is that every care order, whether an interim order or a full order, that has ever been made since the Children Act 1989 came into force has been contrary to Article 5 of the Convention, and has been unlawful since the Human Rights Act came into force. I admire Mr Duke for his courage and boldness in making that submission, but, at any rate at the level of the High Court, I reject it as being unarguable.
- Other reasons why it is said that section 38 is incompatible with a range of Articles of the Convention are the following. First, Mr Duke argues that there is nothing in section 38 itself which compels a local authority to provide medical assistance to a child whom they have taken into their care pursuant to an interim care order. This, he says, may involve a breach of Article 3 of the Convention. Just to understand the context in which the submission is made, I have been told (I stress that I have absolutely no independent evidence whatsoever with regard to this) that on 7 February 2018 Mrs Coulibaly’s son was “forcibly removed” from her care by the police. She says that her son later reported that the police had hurt his arms, and they were really painful. The complaint is that it was apparently not for 13 days that the local authority arranged for her son to be seen by a doctor. Mr Duke submits that there should be an added provision within section 38, or elsewhere in the Children Act 1989, to compel a local authority to undertake an immediate, or very early medical examination of every child whom they take into their interim care, both to check that he or she has not been harmed during the process of removal, if forcible, and also to check for such matters as allergies. He submits that the absence of some such express duty in section 38 or elsewhere in the Act infringes the positive obligation on a state to ensure that no one is subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, as Article 3 of the Convention requires. Again, I make absolutely clear that I express no view whatsoever on whether or not it should be made mandatory for a local authority immediately to arrange a medical examination of a child taken into their care. That, again, is a matter for government and Parliament. But at its highest, in my view, this is another example of the Act being “incomplete”. There is nothing in this regard that renders the Act incompatible with the Convention.
- Mr Duke argues also that section 38 of the Act is incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention. He says, in particular, that in order that the important rights under Article 8 of the Convention are respected (which is what Article 8 requires), there should be express statutory provision for what he calls “a transfer plan” before any child is taken into care. He submits that a local authority can at the moment “just come and grab a child, which disrupts the child’s private life” and that unless there is an express statutory requirement of “a transfer plan”, section 38 is incompatible with Article 8. He further says that often, when a child is taken into care, the child is not enabled immediately to take his own personal belongings with him, and that in order for the Act to be compatible with Article 8 there must be express statutory provision for a child to be able to do so. Again, in my view, these are, at best, matters of good practice, or examples of the legislation being “incomplete”, but the absence of express statutory provisions of the kind that Mr Duke contends for does not render section 38 itself incompatible.
I say, that ‘transfer plan’ is a good idea, I wonder if we could call it by a shorter name and have it be a mandatory requirement before the making of an interim care order. We could call it, oh, I don’t know – a care plan?
Let us just enjoy the fine work of Holman J once again
If Mr Duke is correct in his argument that the making of an interim care order necessarily infringes a right guaranteed by Article 5, then the argument would apply no less to the making of a “full” care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. Frankly, carried to its logical conclusion, the argument and submission of Mr Duke is that every care order, whether an interim order or a full order, that has ever been made since the Children Act 1989 came into force has been contrary to Article 5 of the Convention, and has been unlawful since the Human Rights Act came into force. I admire Mr Duke for his courage and boldness in making that submission, but, at any rate at the level of the High Court, I reject it as being unarguable.
As I’ve suggested above, the article 5 v s38 is very much Mr Duke’s best point. If you think that this dissection of his best point doesn’t augur well for his less good ones, you are correct.
Surprisingly, Holman J does not grasp the opportunity offered to him by Mr Duke to overturn huge chunks of statute that have been running for thirty odd years.
- For the reasons I have given, I am crystal clear, even at this short summary hearing today, that none of these applications for declarations of incompatibility are, in the least, arguable. I will accordingly make an order which, first, recites by list all the applications that Mrs Coulibaly has made for declarations of incompatibility as I listed them at the outset of this judgment, and then orders that all the applications for declarations of incompatibility listed under that recital are summarily dismissed.
So the law remains intact. Well, at least until Coulibaly v Coulibaly Rev no 2, which I’m looking forward to. I shall be immensely disappointed if the Act of Union, Magna Carta and the Licensing Act 1872 (which makes it a criminal offence to be drunk in a pub)